Shall We Give Up on Rome?

June 18, 2012 at 11:32 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments
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Since I became a feminist in the early 1970s, non-Catholics have been asking me the same question: “If you want women ordained, why don’t you just become an Episcopalian?” Or “You know Rome is never going to change. Why not just quit?”

I’ll spare you my responses, which have to do with my six Famine Irish great-grandparents turning over in their graves, and the fact that when I fall down and skin my knee (or break both wrists!), I say “Jesus, Mary and Joseph.”

But now it’s practicing Catholics who are raising this question, and with increasing frequency. First there was a nationally recognized nun (not Sister Joan Chittister),  who didn’t say it’s time to leave, but that it may be time for US women’s religious congregations to give up their canonical status as the Los Angeles Immaculate Heart Community did after Cardinal McIntyre kicked the shit out of them in the late 1960s. Next a local Catholic sister in leadership in her congregation suggested it’s time to separate from Rome and form an American Catholic church. I wasn’t exactly shocked by what she said, but I certainly took notice; this woman is a classic, law-abiding nun, somebody who has spent her life working her butt off for her congregation and the church.

But now the cat is really out of the bag, in an article in today’s New York Times about “The Rottweiler’s Rottweiler,” Bill Donohue, the head of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. I seriously doubt that the author of the article (and former executive editor of the Times), Bill Keller, is a practicing Catholic, but he admits to a level of disagreement with Donohue that I and many of my Vatican II Catholic friends share. Keller is amazed, then, to find himself agreeing with Donohue when he says that the solution to the massive conflicts roiling the American church is for people like the nuns and me to accede to the wishes of the chief rottweiler, Pope Benedict XVI, and go away. Citing the positive example of Spiritus Christi “Catholic, not Roman Catholic” Church in Rochester, NY, Keller writes:

“Much as I wish I could encourage the discontented, the Catholics of open minds and open hearts, to stay put and fight the good fight, this is a lost cause. Donohue is right. Summon your fortitude, and just go. If you are not getting the spiritual sustenance you need, if you are uneasy being part of an institution out of step with your conscience — then go. The restive nuns who are planning a field trip to Rome for a bit of dialogue? Be assured, unless you plan to grovel, no one will be listening. Sisters, just go. Bill Donohue will hold the door for you.”

I can hardly fault Keller for raising the question that many other US Catholics have raised since the crack-down on Catholic Sisters began. Though as for his suggestion that perhaps Cardinal Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, will agree to pay off the departing sisters as he paid pedophile priests to disappear when he was the archbishop of Milwaukee, I have a different idea. Women’s religious congregations should get themselves lawyers with expertise is disaggregating their savings and property from the institutional church pronto. Some have already done so.

So what do you think? Is this the direction the huge number of American Catholics who support marriage equality, the right of all women to reproductive health care, and the election of political candidates who won’t eviscerate the social safety net, should follow–to give up on the Vatican and its episcopal enforcers? Would we be losing something here, or gaining a whole lot?

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  1. Thanks for the post, Marian. I am buried in footnotes and NEED your blog to keep up with the drumbeat out there. And isn’t the drumbeat getting louder. Wow.

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  2. Thanks Marian. Such a thicket. Let me recount a story from our priest, Father Michael Hiller, an Anglo-Catholic, who also just returned from the Vatican with the Society of Catholic Priests (an Episcopal society). Father Hiller was astonished when, during their audience with the Pontiff, His Holiness blessed them and directed them to bless their congregations on his behalf. He was astonished not because they were not Roman Catholic, but because half of them were ordained women priests. That’s my story (see http://hillerleiturgia.blogspot.it/2012/06/audience-wednesday-13-june-2012.html).

    Does it matter that we believe that the Pontiff is a remonstrating Bishop in OUR Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (and not us in his)? Well, for me it does since on so many central points of faith and practice, it is clear that the Holy Father has departed from the faith. We await the return of the Holy Father and his remonstrating parishes with open arms.

    At the same time, we recognize the Roman Catholic congregations as wholly Catholic and Apostolic, even if they have separated themselves. (Just as we recognized the southern diocese as Catholic and Apostolic and held seats open for them to occupy following the Civil War, which they did.)

    So that from where I sit passing from a Roman Catholic to an Anglo-Catholic parish is passing from one corner of the Church Universal to another. But to remain as they are, in their Roman parishes, is also acceptable. There is no rush here. Salvation does not rest on it.

    Now, whether the Holy See will ever return to the Discipline of the Church and its Divinely Appointed Offices, neither you or I can rightly say. We pray that it might. But that is a matter between Benedict and his God.

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  3. I have to acknowledge the distraction provided by the politics of our church is irritating the hell out of me on Sunday’s as I try to concentrate on my relationship with
    God and my callings in life. Stumbling thru the ‘new’ wording of the mass, trying to
    get my non-musical voice to even remotely follow the music hall melodies meant for
    a practiced choir opens the door to feeling like I do not belong in the church I have
    been attending for 58 yrs. The upside is that a homily has the new “value added”
    possibility of being THE (as in only) real-life connection to where I am at with my
    relationship to God thru the Church. I am usually pleased with quality of the homily
    and then again distracted by wondering how such a good and committed priest must
    feel after giving us decades of service only to be stuck with such a sadly challenged
    institution. It seems the devil has concocted the perfect storm to root me out of my spirtual comfort zone in a VERY real way. I am a bit scared…my faith has always been my source of strength and
    clarity; I feel challenged in what seem unresolvable directions between what I know to be real in life and the politics of Rome. Pat Hill

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    • You have my sympathy, Pat. This is a really tough time.

      Sent from my iPad

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  4. Thanks, Marian, for having the courage to speak your truth within the Catholic Church and from your very public forum here. I enjoy reading your very articulate and thoughtful posts, (no surprise).
    I have been struggling with “the church” , as you know, since we met at Grailville in 1972. Since then I have been “in” …raising my 3 children in the circle of a very liberal and diverse urban parish and the Easter community of Grailville…”out” none of the Burgers attend Mass or belong to a parish at this point…and “around” teaching art at a catholic school for almost 20 years.
    I DO love my job where I can enjoy many of the things I love about being raised Catholic: community, a call to seek and work towards justice and the delight and celebration of mystery…without, so far, having to sign in blood that I support all the teaching of the pope and his minions.
    I do think we have reached the tipping point where personal theology and spirituality are meeting the very real power, (social, political and economic) of the Catholic Church as an institution. These men are using that power for immoral purposes, especially as they preach against (and prevent) the use of contraception by poor women. The consequences of this very political act are enormous. I see all around me Catholic women and men who are, in fact, giving up on Rome… sadly and reluctantly, but with the moral certitude that would make all our irish grandmothers proud.

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    • Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on all this, Mindy. It’s my experience that a lot of Catholic women find the attacks on the nuns a kind of “line in the sand,” to echo Cardinal Dolan, but in the opposite direction.

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  5. Marian,
    I wrote a two page reflection after reading this post. However, I will share one paragraph and the following prayer. I came across it listening to a series of talks on St John of the Cross given by Rev. Iain Matthew, O.C.D.

    Oh God, make me brave.
    Let me strengthen after pain,
    As a tree strengthens after rain,
    Shiny and lovely again.
    As the blown grass lifts,
    Let me rise from sorrow with quiet eyes,
    Knowing Thy way is wise.
    God, make me braver.
    Life brings such blinding things.
    Help me to keep you in sight,
    Knowing all through my night,
    That out of dark comes light.

    My final response to your question whether “the huge number of American Catholics who support marriage equality, the right of all women to reproductive health care, and the election of political candidates who won’t eviscerate the social safety net” should stay or not is that it is a personal decision each person and groups of persons within the Church has to make. My only advice would be to remember Mary at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you.” Honestly dialogue with God and seek God’s guidance and be faithful to whatever God whispers in the depths of your soul or thunders out loud. Come hell or high water, do whatever he told you, knowing God never asks us to go against our consciences or violates our freedom in anyway. The Holy Spirit is at work in the midst of everything, inviting us to collaborate…

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    • Judy, thank you so much for this thoughtful reflection on the going or staying question, and especially for the prayer. I suspect it will comfort many.

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